‘Abhi kaam hi kaam hai for everybody’

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 31 August 2018

Actor Neil Bhoopalam, who plays one of the clowns in The Natak Company’s Hamlet: The Clown Prince, shares his thoughts on performing in different mediums and what it means to be an intelligent performer in present times

Neil Bhoopalam sees himself as a performer. But he is also an interesting storyteller and comes up with analogies when asked to describe his work or his preferred medium of work. The actor, who did an impressive job in 24 teleseries, will be in the city on Saturday to take part in The Natak Company’s Shakespeare Comedy Theatre’s play, Hamlet: The Clown Prince. When asked about his thoughts on playing a clown, the actor quips, “I am a clown by nature, so it’s good fun. In our country, we don’t have the culture of clowning. But if you go to Israel or England, it is a proper act, like we have the Ramlila act over here.” 

Neil plays Fido, a clown, who is not “very bright.” He shares the stage with a few more clowns and one of them is Hamlet played by Vinay Pathak, who Neil refers to as “unpredictable and temperamental.” 

Theatre is full of stories of working with friends and being there for each other. There’s camaraderie and an understanding of each other’s craft, and getting under the skin of the character, almost instantly. This is very much evident when theatre actors outdo the mainstream actors in films. Neil laughs at this and says, “Mauka milte hi we take extra footage! I guess this is because we are regularly doing what we have to do, that is going live before the audience. I am assuming that a person who is not acting frequently, takes that much more warm-up time to get under the skin of the character.” 

He then goes on to explain the difference between theatre actors and actors working in films. “When someone like me and Anushka (Sharma) got together for NH10, we had to attend workshops and rehearsals to come on the same page. Anushka is also a proper, working actor. She has expertise in knowing the camera angles as she works and performs before the camera. Whereas, I have had more time in front of a live audience,” adds Neil.

Which brings us to our next question, what is his preferred acting medium — theatre, TV, films or web series? To which Neil responds with another analogy. “It’s like driving a car. Whichever car you drive the most, you are comfortable driving it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drive other models. It just might feel different driving another car. There is a fair amount of comfort in theatre, because that’s where I started performing. But I also treat each medium as a different stage. If you are doing a show in Prithvi, then you will have to perform it in the Prithvi theatre format. If you are going to do it in a 1,000 seater auditorium, the whole design will change. 
Sometimes the stage is for a film format. This makes it much easier for me to understand and do my job,” says the former RJ.

Neil then holds forth on how this is a good time for everyone in the industry, especially, now that web series have taken off in a big way. Says he, “I am amazed with the web series. Nobody could imagine a decade ago that entertainment would be streamed. You don’t need a TV or a laptop. A smartphone will rule your life. Now, every production house wants to make web series. They want to make stories for the web, Netflix and Amazon. Abhi kaam hi kaam hai for everybody.”

The actor, who also did a web series with YRF titled, Bang Baaja Baaraat, says he is into podcasting and doesn’t watch regular TV fare. “Whatever we watch now is pretty much selected. Gone are the days when you would surf channels and stumble on a movie. Now if you want to watch a movie, you decide what to watch. It’s interesting how things have bifurcated,” he adds.

Will theatre have a strong presence in the future? Will  there be any takers? “I guess it’s all going to depend on individuals. People who like to watch one play a month, or two movies a month, will plan a routine around it. I think all the entertainment mediums will all co-exist and none will be damaging for another,” observes Neil. 

In that case, what happens to actors like him, whose craft is engaging, but commercial cinema doesn’t offer them much space. Says Neil, “Long time ago, I ran into chef Sanjeev Kapoor and we started chit chatting. I asked him a similar question — you are a chef and you must know so much, but you are only putting out a few things. He replied, ‘One, we can’t make very complex dishes. Nobody has the time or ingredients to put that much in. Second, on television, we have to explain every thing, three times, so that the viewers don’t miss out’. So my observation is that different mediums allow you to put up a story in different ways. If you have, one common story of Little Red Riding Hood, it could be put up for children; Quentin Tarantino could write a story on Red Riding Hood, which would have lot of bloodshed in it; Doordarshan could make something for grown-ups. All would have different flavours. As far as my work is concerned and the roles I am offered, I will say that it’s not like somebody is asking me, ‘Come, be a hero’. My choices are based on the offers that I get. It’s like going to a buffet table and you can choose from what’s on offer. It’s treating me very well though,” he concludes. 

ST Reader Service:
Catch Neil Bhoopalam in Hamlet: The Clown Prince which will be staged on Saturday evening at Nehru Memorial Hall, Camp, at 5 pm

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